An influential United States health task force has reversed a controversial recommendation. They now suggest mammograms begin at age 40. That’s ten years earlier than where they used to be.
The recommendation comes from the United States Preventive Services Task Force.
The task force is charged with coming up with the most evidence-based guidelines for screening important diseases.
Their guidance is relied on by health providers across the U.S., which is why their 2009 recommendations on mammograms were so contentious.
In 2009 the task force recommended that women begin every other year mammograms at age 50.
At that time, their interpretation of the data suggested that the benefit of starting 10 years earlier, at age 40, did not offer many benefits compared to the increased risk of false positive findings leading to additional testing.
Dr. Lindsay Petersen is a Henry Ford Health Surgical Breast Oncologist who says the concern for the 10-year age jump is due to misdiagnoses.
“The concern is would you misdiagnose cancers that, during that time period of 40 to 50,” said Petersen.
And this took the task force’s recommendation out of line with most major physician groups like the American Cancer Society, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Radiology, and the American Society of Breast Surgeons all recommend women of average breast cancer risk begin screening at age 40.
What changed the task force’s mind was that since 2009 there’s been a consistent increase in new breast cancer rates in women under 50.
There’s also been growing awareness of differences in both the rate and outcomes of breast cancers diagnosed among Black women.
With that and other factors in mind, the task force took a new look at the data and found there was good reason to change their recommendation that women begin mammography starting at age 40.
“To have everyone on the same page is going to simplify screening recommendations for primary care physicians and for women that need screening,” Petersen said.
While the task force is changing their recommended starting age for mammograms to 40, they didn’t change their recommendation that the mammograms be done every other year.
Groups like the American Cancer Society suggest women get mammograms every year between 45 and 55, and breast surgeons like Petersen recommend annual mammograms across all ages that should be discussed with your doctor.
The bottom line is that women of average risk should start at 40.
Petersen also emphasized that women need to discuss their risk in their 20s with their physicians. Things that can impact a woman’s risk include how many children a woman had when they started having children, any family history of breast cancer, or cancer in general, and their personal breast history.